Lots of room for improvement for valley elementary schools
Only five Cowichan Valley schools are above the provincial average in the latest Fraser Institute rankings of elementary schools for the 2011-12 term.
"As a geographical area, the place isn't doing that well,'' said Peter Cowley, the director of school performance studies for the Fraser Institute.
The report card rates 853 public and private elementary schools based on 10 academic indicators using data from the often-controversial Foundation Skills Assessments tests administered for the B.C. Ministry of Education. These include: reading, writing and numeracy average scores for Grades 4 and 7; Grade 7 gender gaps in reading and numeracy; below expectations percentage and tests not written percentage.
Schools are rated out of 10 and the report card includes information about each school's make-up, including parents' average income, the percentage of English as a Second Language students and the percentage of special needs students.
"The average for all the schools in the area is 4.8,'' said Cowley of the valley. "The average for all 853 of the schools in the report card is 6.0.''
Crofton Elementary, Bench Elementary, Sunrise Waldorf, Queen of Angels and Duncan Christian were the only local schools above the provincial average.
Crofton, one of the schools in District 79's list of 10 up for possible closure, led the way at 8.6 and was ranked 62nd overall. Bench scored 7.5 for 166th, Sunrise Waldorf 7.2 for 208th, Queen of Angels 6.3 for 351st and Duncan Christian 6.1 for 385th.
Results for the rest of the valley schools in the report card were: Duncan Elementary (5.3, 539th), Discovery (4.6, 663rd), Maple Bay (4.5, 674th), Chemainus and Cobble Hill (4.1, 734th), Alex Aitken (3.9, 751st), Drinkwater (2.2, 634th) and Khowhemun (1.1, 852nd).
Koksilah, A.B. Greenwell, Tansor, Alexander, Palsson, St. Joseph's, Somenos and Ecole Mill Bay were not listed.
"If a school's not in, it's a 99 % chance for one reason or another we didn't get enough data to meet our criteria,'' said Cowley.
A total of at least 90 test results is required from the Grade 4 and 7 reading, writing and numeracy categories for inclusion.
A rank for the last five years for each school out of 703 is also given.
"One thing we try to do all the time, you should not put a lot of emphasis on what's happening in a given year but should look at the results over five years,'' said Cowley.
In Crofton's case, its ranking in the last five years is just 5.6 so that means the chances of continued improvement are better. A 5.1 score from 2008 and 2.8 in 2009 will be taken out of five-year factoring in each of the next two years.
"They've had four years of substantial improvement,'' Cowley said.
At the other end of the scale, "clearly Khowhemun, the kids potentially have some challenges other schools don't,'' said Cowley.
He noted Khowhemun's parents' average income of $29,200 is substantially below the provincial average of $65,400. The percentage of ESL students of 37.5 % is also much higher than the provincial average of 15 % for all schools and Cowley noted the percentage of special needs students at Khowhemun is 15.2.
"Not only is it low-performing, it's also not improving,'' he added.
Cowley said improvement begins at each school by determining if the results are important and then believing the kids "can and should do better. This is the nub of it.''
With that in mind, a determination can be made about what can be done about it. "We give people the opportunity to compare school results,'' said Cowley.
That would require finding schools with similar populations, family income, ESL percentages and other factors.
"If you can't find any, even though the circumstances are different, you might look at Alberta,'' said Cowley. "It's a search that needs to happen actively or aggressively.''
Complete results are available at www.compareschoolrankings.org.
"Our report shows that all schools are capable of improvement, regardless of the personal or family challenges their students might face,'' Cowley summed up.
"We all want the best possible education for our children. To achieve this, every B.C. school should make improvement Job One.''